LEWISTON — There wasn’t a hint of romance in the air during a speed dating event Wednesday in a venue featuring the requisite exposed ducts, wooden columns and pizza.

Ten Democrats tried to woo about 100 progressives brought together there by the Maine People’s Alliance during 150-minute tour through an acoustically challenged room in an old mill.

Seven Democrats who are eyeing the possibility of becoming Maine’s next governor, together with a trio of congressional hopefuls, attended the “Resistance Rising” forum to offer some face time for voters with many of the men and women angling for office in the 2018 election.

Jonathan Fulford, who is seeking Democratic backing to take on 2nd District Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, said it was “an example of what democracy is supposed to look like” and insisted it was “really, really fun.”

After delivering a brief speech at the start, each candidate got to sit in a circle with about a dozen people for seven minutes, answering questions and listening to suggestions before moving on to the next group. They ultimately sat with nine groups during the more than two-hour forum.

Given the format, it wasn’t a time to hone in on the differences among the candidates. But there were a lot of common themes that emerged among many of the contenders.


Nearly all of them mentioned the need for more civility in government, more attention to climate change and renewable energy, immigration reform and a welcoming attitude to newcomers, and a new emphasis on jobs, education and health care.

They also agreed that the only Republican in the race for governor, Mary Mayhew, would be a disaster.

Adam Lee, who isn’t yet sure he’s going to run for governor, said Mayhew “will drive us into the ground” for a generation if she’s allowed to continue the policies of two-term Gov. Paul LePage, for whom she worked as the health and human services commissioner.

Lee said every Democrat in the race “would be a better choice than whoever the Republicans put up.”

Betsy Sweet, a gubernatorial hopeful, said that in this period of extraordinary change, politicians need to put aside polls and consultants and speak to voters with courage instead of caution.

The Maine People’s Alliance billed the event as a chance for people to ask questions in a bid to “make sure that our next leaders have a truly progressive vision for Maine.”


“Now, more than ever, we need progressive leaders who will work to help everyday Mainers and fight back against the racist and xenophobic rhetoric and policies coming from Washington and Augusta,” organizers said.

And the candidates generally agreed.

Gubernatorial aspirant Jim Boyle said he admires the MPA because the organization exists “for the people who don’t have the power.” By banding together, he said, “they can take on the people with suits and money.”

Alicia Rea, a Lewiston city council contender, said the nation is at an “incredibly pivotal moment” with white supremacists on the march and sanctioned by President Donald Trump.

Gubernatorial contender Diane Russell said that for GOP fear mongers “someone has to be the demon” responsible for all that’s gone wrong. These days, she said, immigrants fit the bill despite being blameless.

She said the state needs to push for immigration reform, but also needs to stand up to a federal government that is “demonizing people” to score political points.


Asked about Maine’s status as the state with the smallest percentage of minorities in America, former House Speaker Mark Eves, another gubernatorial candidate, called the state’s whiteness “bad news.”

He said Maine is going to be in trouble if it can’t attract a more diverse population, something that a more welcoming spirit and greater success in convincing young people to move in will bring with them.

Congressional hopeful Tim Rich called himself “totally radical” as one voter pressed him for a quick summary of his politics. He promised “to censure Donald Trump if he’s not gone” by the time he takes office after defeating Poliquin.

Rich said he’ll press for a better education system in Maine.

“Our schools should be cathedrals,” he said.

Rich also said schools need to teach more history and civics. They also need to make sure students can distinguish between real news and fake news, he said.


Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston, who’s also taking aim at Poliquin, vowed that he “won’t hide my politics” like Poliquin does with his steady refusal to talk to the press or hold open sessions for constituents to ask him questions.

Patrick Eisenhart, who would like to succeed LePage, said he is outraged by the mismanagement of health care and human services under Mayhew’s watch. “We have to stop moving backward,” he said.

Adam Cote, also running for governor, said renewable energy such as solar and wind power offers the state “a phenomenal opportunity” if its leader would push it instead of trying to stymie the industries.

Cote said it’s important that whoever wins the primary next June, “the Democratic Party has to unite” because the state “can’t stand another round” of LePage-like policies.


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